Today’s Gospel passage summarizes the whole of Jesus’ mission in one word, ephphatha (Be opened). This word, by which Jesus opened ears and loosened the tongue of man, is so significant that the evangelist does not render it in Greek but in the original Aramaic spoken by Jesus, and it has remained that way in the Bible.
The word ephphatha is an embodiment of compassion, liberation, healing, restoration, reconciliation, and total renewal. Ephphatha isa validation of Isaiah’s prophecy that, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5,6). Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of that promise, and the Gospel tells us that he groaned as he healed the man, signifying his empathy, and such groaning is a direct appeal to the heart of his Father. Jesus fully understands our condition – he walked where we walk, he feels what we feel, and he knows what we are going through at any time.
In today’s miracle, Jesus was also ministering to the man’s inner self; he was having a heart-to-heart communication with this man – to cure his spiritual deafness as well, so that his healing might be complete. Furthermore, Jesus did what most of us would find disgusting today – using his own spittle to touch the man’s tongue. He did not worry too much about health and safety regulations as he knew exactly what he was doing. Moreover, people in those days believed that saliva was therapeutic, and even in our time it’s not uncommon for a child to put an injured finger into the mouth. But, considering that the people may have believed such actions to be efficacious in themselves, Jesus does this for a sacramental purpose – the action doing what it symbolizes and symbolizing what it does. Thus, he leads the people from a belief in the potency of a material element to a belief in the Power behind the elements.
Some years ago, a 29-year-old American woman who was born deaf heard her own voice for the first time. A rare genetic deformity meant that she was missing the hair in her inner ear that transmits sound to the brain. She was fitted with her first hearing aid at age 2, but even with that technology she could only hear some vibrations and loud noises. She compensated throughout her life by becoming adept at reading people’s lips. Then, finally, she got an implant which utilizes ear drum vibrations to bring hearing back to its users. So, for the very first time, this woman heard her own voice, and those of her two daughters. It was joy unspeakable as she cried and laughed at the same time. This hearing device is undoubtedly a miracle but remains an artificial device. Jesus goes beyond the artificial by restoring the man’s hearing and speech to their pristine condition. And, as a result, the people are so happy that they tell everyone about it despite Jesus’ command that they should not.
So, it was by saying ephphatha that Jesus healed the man, and that is what he is saying to us today. Behold, he stands at the door waiting to speak the message of ephphatha into our hearts and souls, into our different circumstances. Therefore, is life becoming too much of a struggle and you think your whole world is falling apart? Jesus is saying: Ephphatha – let me do something new in your life! Have you been let down by people you trusted the most? Have you been the object of wicked gossips, false accusations, gang-ups or discrimination or even persecution because of your values? The Lord says to you: Ephphatha– let me take care of it all! Are you living through fear and anxiety – worried stiff about the welfare of your spouse or children? Ephphata– let Jesus restore order and harmony in your life!
Are you despairing for failing to keep your promises to God and neighbour? What about strains in your relationship? Are you in the middle of a bitter divorce and child custody battle? Have you been abandoned by your close companions because you lost your job or business and all your money is gone? Has there been a prolonged sickness or the tragedy of death in the family and all hope now seems lost? Jesus is saying: Ephphatha – “Come to me….and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).Is your vocation as a priest or religious in crisis and you are getting swamped by sinful addictions and spiritual aridity? Have you fallen into marital infidelity and the shame overwhelms you? Jesus says ephphata and: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Are you a young graduate searching endlessly for work with no visible prospects for a better tomorrow? Are you a retiree living in penury with no gratuity or regular pensions due to the mischief of those in authority? What about the millions of poor people toiling endlessly for survival with little or no access to basic sanitation or medical care? Jesus is saying ephphatha to you. As Scripture says: “Can a woman forget her baby at the breast, feel no pity for the child she has borne? Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you” (Is. 49:15).The Lord surely knows and understands everything. He came and died that we might have life in abundance.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, as we approach the Eucharist today, let us receive Jesus with open hearts and minds, and let us invite him to revive us again knowing that he is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). Let us be opened, let us ephphatha!